I’ve grown weary of trying to work my way through a book about Saussure in French, and thought that maybe I should take my ambition down a notch. I tried a French translation of some Stephen King stories. Forget it–super-hard vocabulary. I’m halfway through a bilingual French/English book about British serial killers, but it has both languages on facing pages, so I’m not sure that it counts. I was in a train station bookstore today and saw a French translation of “Hunger Games,” picked it up, saw that I could mostly understand it, and resolved to pick up a copy at an independent bookstore later in the day, rather than the chain bookstore that I was in. This evening, I walked into a tiny bookstore that I like in my neighborhood. I wasn’t actually sure how to say “Hunger Games” in French, so my conversation with the proprietress went something like this:
Me: “Ma’am, have you of the books for the youth, teenagers?”
Bookstore Proprietress (BP): “Of what age?”
Me: “True-y, it is for me. I speak not well French, and I am looking for a book that I may understand. Do you have “The Hunger Games”?
BP: “De…’unger…Gamez? What is that?”
Me: “What you would suggest?”
BP: (rummages around in crowded shelves, pulls out Albert Camus’s “The Stranger”) “You will like this.”
Now, I know exactly what “The Stranger” is, having read it, in English, years ago. It’s a classic of French existentialist literature. No way am I going to try to read it in French.
Me: “I have already readed the book in English. I CANNOT read it in French.”
BP: “Yes, you can. I have recommended this book before for people who are trying to improve their French.”
I flip through it, pick out some random paragraphs, and I’ll be damned if she’s not right: I CAN read it!
Me: “You are right! I can read it!”
BP: “Yes–I’ve owned this bookstore for 41 years. Give it a week, and if you don’t like it, bring it back.”
I take the book up to the counter to pay for it, shaking my head in amazement. I thank her, as politely as I am able. “You are obéissant,” says Madame Bookstore Proprietress. I think to myself, “I hope like hell that means ‘polite,'” smile, take my change, and leave. Back at home with my book and a couple of small cheeses, I check my dictionary. Ooh, SNAP!
- obéissant: obediant.